Dr. Mehmet Oz won. Two years after the talk-show host dedicated an episode of Dr. Oz to the issue of arsenic in apple juice, the Food and Drug Administration has announced new limits on the carcinogen. The “action level” set by the FDA, the first of its kind, is 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic—the stuff that will readily kill you, as opposed to organic arsenic, which is far more common and much less harmful—the same limit the Environmental Protection Agency enforces on drinking water.
There was plenty of debate about arsenic in apple juice following Dr. Oz’s show. In some quarters, he was seen as a misguided alarmist for focusing on the overall level of arsenic instead of separating out organic and inorganic and discussing the difference. In 2011, the FDA said that the amount of arsenic found in apple juice was well below the “level for concern.”
So why the change of heart? It doesn’t appear the FDA is acting directly in response to the public concern that arose following the Dr. Oz episode—or at least that didn’t draw the regulator’s attention to the issue for the first time. As Food Safety News reports,
The FDA has been monitoring apple juice for arsenic for the past two decades and the overall levels found have been low. New tests have allowed the agency to better distinguish between inorganic arsenic and organic arsenic, which is not considered a public health concern. In the latest round of testing of 94 samples, FDA found that 95 percent were below 10 ppb of total arsenic and 100 percent were below 10 ppb for inorganic arsenic.
No, the rule is coming out now because these things take time, according to Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA.
“It takes time to put that together and put it through the proper review,” he told FSN. “It’s important to get it right.”
Apparently, the definition of “right,” in terms of parts of arsenic per billion, can change over the course of a few years. But at least there’s a limit now, so you can raise a glass of apple juice to that.